Tate Modern: Ewa Partum and nudity as artistic expression

By Harlen Leonard

While on a recent trip to the Tate Modern, I came across the work of Polish artist Ewa Partum. A pioneer in conceptual and performance art, Ewa is now regarded as one of Poland’s great feminist artists. She was one of the first female artists to enter a public space in the nude, claiming that she would continue to perform nude until women were given equal rights artistically. By entering her environment naked, she made a very clear statement about herself as a female artist and how her work was based on her experiences as a woman.

Ewa Partum

Ewa Partum’s ‘Active Poetry’ at the Tate Modern

Her art is a true example of ‘poetry through art.’ Ewa has been pursuing a new artistic language through the use of linguistic actions and installations. An amazing example of this is currently on display at the Tate Modern. It is a film re-enactment that documents some of her most significant actions from the early 1970’s, known as Active Poetry. During this time Ewa would cut out words from classical and historical texts, such as James Joyce’s Ulysses, and scatter the letters in public spaces. This created non-linear ‘visual poetry’. From the image to the left you can see that the floor of the room where this work is presented is covered with large white letters.

Ewa is not the only woman to use her body as a political statement. It is said that Lady Godiva rode through the streets of Coventry naked on a horse in the 13th century to protest high taxation. In recent years, women have once again taken charge of their own bodies, using them as a medium for protest and self-expression.

The latest group of women to employ this tactic is Feman, a global protest group that demonstrates against the many forms of sexism that are present in society. Feman has made headlines all over the world, and some members have even been incarcerated, for their topless protests.

Another group of women choosing to express themselves through a lack of clothing is the Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society. The book club takes advantage of the New York state law that allows public toplessness, in the hopes of removing the social taboo of women bearing their breasts, even though toplessness is considered acceptable for men. They are often spotted reading in Central Park, and it is important to note that they have not been met with any hostility from the NYPD.

Why do you think that nudity and toplessness are still used to express thoughts and ideals? Is the female form still a taboo? Please feel free to comment and share your views on the subject.

Here at What I See, we hope that you will contribute to our project focusing on self-expression. To do this, please answer our question: What do you see when you look in the mirror? We hope that our collective answers will inspire female empowerment.